Ronald Reagan was wrong. Sarah Palin is wrong. Saxby Chambliss is wrong. Nancy Pelosi is wrong. Arnold Schwartzenegger is wrong. There is a conservative mythology espoused by Reagan and continued by Palin that government regulation is somehow a bad thing. But their argument is based on the fact that they’re both white, reasonably well-off citizens of the United States. What both of them failed to realize, and the purveyors of this myth continue to ignore in their quest for a “large government demon,” is that the Constitution of the United States specifically provides in its preamble, in its declaration of purpose, to do many things for the citizens of the United States:
- form a more perfect union
- establish justice
- insure domestic tranquility
- provide for the common defense
- promote the general welfare
- secure the blessings of liberty
This is the framework within which we are working, within which we live. This is the birthright of all Americans, regardless of ability, economic status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, or condition. This is the body of promises given to my father-in-law and each naturalized citizen when they raise their right hand and swear an Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America. And this is the “small government” that they are becoming a part of, through birth or choice, that Reagan and Palin claim “is the problem.”
The grandiose ideals exhorted in the Declaration of Independence by the most famous slaveholder in American history were codified in the Constitution after much debate. In modern parlance, the debate continues about what our government is responsible for. I would argue that the government is responsible for the six goals listed above. While none is more important that the others, the Palins of the country, the Chamblisses argue that promoting the general welfare somehow means protecting citizens from gay marriage. Ascribing this to their own limited and narrow view of Christianity, they neglect to address the secular nature of our country or the sixth goal of the Constitution, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.
Smaller government is also a catchphrase used to justify lowering taxes, just as some people use promoting the general welfare as an argument to raise taxes on the wealthy, since “they can afford it.” While Adam Smith did argue that the wealthy should pay more in taxes, “each according to his station,” I don’t agree with either argument. The truth of smaller government is that we need to do more with what we have, rather than continue to scramble for more resources to meet our goals. Smaller government means that government needs to become more efficient, and get more bang for our tax bucks.
We need to insure that all citizens have equal access, though whether they take advantage of those is a personal choice that each and every person makes. However, assuming that government stripped down to the bones without the flesh is somehow better because they won’t have to pay taxes, and that will force everyone including the disadvantaged, the downtrodden, the mentally and physically challenged, the economically oppressed, the underemployed and others who for one reason or another require assistance in order to participate positively in American society is self-interested, selfish, and more reminiscent of fascism than the great American experiment that is our democratic republic.
Smaller government should actually mean a government that uses tax revenues to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” not to bail out investment bankers and auto-making CEOs. And that smaller government still needs to provide the services that citizens require. It does not, however, mean that people who don’t have an even start line (lack of employment, education, ableness, income, exposure or discrimination based on gender, race, economics, ableness, etc.) are simply out of luck, either. The inability of states like California and the United States’ Congress to balance budgets because they refuse to spend what they can afford, not try (and fail) to afford what they spend is what causes huge ballooning deficits and “conservatives” like Sarah Palin to call for smaller government.
But they’re wrong. Smaller isn’t better, and size does matter.
It’s more efficient government that we need.